Sometimes, we miss good food by not ordering correctly. I think that was the case on our first visit… or was it?

Mala Pot Roasted Prawns

We met a good friend for a quiet lunch at the original Mala Sichuan Bistro on Bellaire Boulevard in Chinatown. There’s a new, quite popular one in the Montrose area, too. Thank Goodness that we were totally happy with the company. None of us had ever eaten there before. Did you ever really want to like the food somewhere, yet found something slightly lacking in each dish? I am a fan of Sichuan cuisine, so this was not my first rodeo. Of course, there is something new to learn in ANY cuisine… and so, I hoped, was the case here.

Inviting Decor

We were greeted by courteous staff members, seated quickly, and looked forward to a wonderful lunch. We all like spicy flavors, hence our choice of Sichuan food in the first place. Even though we found that there was a spicy tang to the dishes, it was hardly “hot”.

Mala Pot Roasted Prawns

First choice were Mala Pot Roasted Prawns. This is an example of wonderful flavor, yet it was almost impossible to eat. I DID eat eat every bite though. The problem? The prawns were swimming in a delicious “mala” sauce including asparagus, bamboo shoots, green onions, but they weren’t peeled. There is discussion about the health benefits of eating the shells, but I don’t care for the texture. Each succulent, perfectly-cooked prawn was served in its shell and required fishing for it with fingers, then peeling it to enjoy it. Eating all of the prawns required sticking the fingers into the sauce… then peeling… and an entire napkin per prawn. I went through over a dozen napkins before i realized that the only way to do this was to peel and eat ALL of the prawns at once… then eat the crispy veggies. Otherwise, it was eat a prawn and clean the hands… eat a prawn and clean the hands!

Cumin Beef

Next was Cumin Beef. Loaded with beef and a copious amount of white onions, this dish was a meat lover’s dream, EXCEPT that there was a rich sauce that had a large topside pool of clear beef fat (probably not the mala – “numbingly hot or sexy” – sauce – made from oil, spices and peppercorns) that was a bit off-putting. Sally ate a fourth of it and asked to take the remaining dish home in a doggie bag to keep from hurting the server’s feelings. It was offered to a meat-loving family member on the way home who loved it! It was garlicky and flavorful, but far too greasy for her tastes.

Mapo Tofu

The Mapo Tofu seemed a perfect choice for our friend who is a vegetarian. While the sauce was relatively spicy and tasty, our friend ate very little and declined a to-go box. Not being a fan of tofu, I decided to let his unfinished dish speak for itself.

So, to give fair advice and a second try, we went again the next day to try three more dishes… FAR more successfully.

Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken is usually a reliable test for Chinese food and this passed the test very well. Also translated as Gong Pao, or Kung Po, it is a spicy stir-fry dish with chicken, peanuts, vegetables and red chili peppers. It was delicious, spicy and the fresh vegetables were crisp.

Three Pepper Beaten Duck

This dish is almost literally just peppers and tea-smoked duck. Watch out for the bones! The duck is chopped into small pieces and quickly sauteed in a wok, bones-in much like Carribean Goat Curry in a Jamaican restaurant. I loved it, as the pieces of duck were almost like small lamb chops. The MANY dried Sichuan red peppers, red oil, long-sliced serrano and peppercorns added a pleasant tingling kick-scientifically, known as paresthesia. So far, nothing was oppressively hot (unless you ate the chilis only).

Sauteed Spinach

Fresh Sauteed Spinach was perfect with plenty of garlic. A refreshing supplement to almost everything on the menu. While the leaves were sauteed barely wilted… the stems were a bit of a struggle.

Specials Are Clearly Posted

Mala Sichuan Bistro is obviously loved by many Asians as they seemed prevalent in the restaurant – it was after all, Chinatown. It was a pleasant trip to enjoy another culture, cuisine and certainly worth experimenting with the many curiously named dishes offered. Next time, a Sichuan classic favorite made with mung bean cellophane noodles – Ants on the Tree!

Mala Sichuan Bistro
9348 Bellaire Blvd.

Laurenzo’s… Far More Than a Tex-Mex Family

Laurenzo’s showcases the family’s Italian, American and Tex-Mex Culture.

We’ve all been to at least one El Tiempo Cantina, and rank it among Houston’s best Tex-Mex restaurants. Not many people know Mama Ninfa’s family is also behind Laurenzo’s Restaurant on Washington Avenue. I’ve visited on several occasions and always seem to find something new to enjoy on each visit. 

Prime Rib au Jus To Be Raved About Later

Three of us got together for lunch at Laurenzo’s Restaurant 

Chef de Cuisine, Donny Navarette

While I have written two articles about Laurenzo’s, full disclosure requires me to say that my friends and I were greeted at the door by the manager… so, I wasn’t a stranger, but will be honest about the fare. We were honored that Chef de Cuisine Donny Navarette stopped by and made us feel welcome.

Our starter was a Grilled Artichoke with a silky Remoulade. Truly they were unusual, in that they were steamed, then grilled over Mesquite with lemon and butter.  They were tender and married well with the sauce. 

Grilled Artichoke Appetizer
The Shrimp and Grits were delightful with a crispy slice of toast. First, a photograph of the Shrimp and Grits shows the dish in its optional glory with a creamy sauce that I loved… and it was unlike the many Shrimp and Grits that I have enjoyed around Houston. While mine was served over creamy mascarpone grits with a fragrant bourbon sauce, I could have gone with the crispy grits cake (above) just as well… maybe better! The Shrimp and Grits may be ordered either way… with the creamy bourbon mascarpone sauce, or with the crisp grit cake.


Shrimp and Grits
Everything was really, really good. Let me talk about the Grit Cake Option. Tasty and surprisingly juicy inside and fried to a very crisp outside! This was served as an option to the creamy grits with the Shrimp & Grits. The optional crispy grit cake finally found its way into the creamy bourbon sauce, and became a favorite of the meal! It was definitely a fine option to the mascarpone grits under the shrimp and creamy sauce.
Grit Cake Option
Now that you’ve seen the Shrimp and Grits in their suggested glory… here it is with an optional enhanced version soaking what’s left of the delicious Grit Cake with the bourbon sauce.
Shrimp and Grits With a Half-Eaten Grit Cake. 
Now Were Talkin’
No matter what you go to Laurenzo’s for, The Prime Rib is (in my opinion) mandatory. It was made irresistible with a hot, rich cup of jus, and the beast was soon rendered gone! The requisite Creamed Corn was, as the name implies, very creamy, lovable and necessary with a steakhouse offering like prime rib.
Prime Rib au Jus With Creamed Corn 
Dessert was a truly wonderful Key Lime Pie. There was a little Key West in every bite due to a tangy liquor from Key West. I love that he layered the pie on top of mandarin oranges.
Key Lime Pie
It was a memorable meal and I plan to go back many times!
Laurenzo’s Restaurant
4412 Washington Avenue
Houston, Texas 77007


A Stop-In to Gilhooley’s Turned Out To Be Like Eating Oysters On a Reef:

Recent ravings about Gilhooley’s and their oysters caused us to wonder enough to stop in for a trial on the way to Galveston’s Mardi Gras!  EVERYTHING that we had read from those raving about their mollusks in San Leon turned out to be true.

Everybody Gumbo
Although Gilhooley’s gumbo comes in other choices (like a favored Oyster Stew and Shrimp Gumbo), we ordered Everybody Gumbo, because oysters and shrimp were featured and “everybody” – including chicken and a local sausage – was added to the mix to try. Note that the oysters were added to the gumbo just late enough to still be plump and juicy. It was VERY good. Oysters were treated respectfully. Thank you.
No kids. No pets. Cash only. That sure seemed OK with me. 
Not a fancy place at all, this restaurant has a cult following of oyster lovers. There ARE some other items of interest, though. Fried Chicken Livers with a wonderful cream gravy are popular and hard to find, These were excellent.
Fried Chicken Livers
Raw Oysters are a favorite at Gilhooley’s and while they are plump and juicy, as expected this time of year, the presentation was pretty lacking… yet, delicious.
Raw Oysters
Pinto Beans are rich, well-seasoned with sausage and are a perfect side for some baked Oysters Gilhooley.
Pinto Beans
Oysters Gilhooley
Oyster Stew was a missed delicacy, as we didn’t order it, but heard much about it from regulars, as well as the Boudin.  Their Shrimp Cole Slaw brings back memories of Hillman’s, yet a regular at the table next to us pointed out that she had ordered it and received no shrimp. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and believe the majority.They rave about it.
This was a brief drop-in, but we wish that we had more time, as well as ordered more types of oysters!
Gilhooley’s Restaurant
Dickinson (San Leon), Texas 77539


Fish Tales at Galveston Mardi Gras – A Tale of Two Cities

Oh, what a night! The celebrations in Galveston have evolved greatly from their origins in 1867 to George Mitchell’s re-invention in 1986 to now. The Island was positively electric with excitement, and the whole community was alive with color and sound. No costume is too outlandish anymore and beads are de rigueur. When the party down the street at the Galveston Convention Center includes Pitbull – why hold back?

The friendly, on-point Fish Tales staff was ready for anything and good that they were. The waves viewed from the upstairs deck were just more sparkling bling necklaces tossed into the afternoon sun. IMHO, you cannot have a bad time at Fish Tales, along Seawall Boulevard, in Galveston, Texas.

View of Pleasure Pier From Fish Tales Deck

Everyday treats include PoBoys on hot crispy French Bread and perfectly fried seafood. The sauces range from cocktail to tartar to their own spicy remoulade. We could not which we wanted more, so we had an….

Oyster and Shrimp PoBoy – a Sexy Combo!

As gumbos go, this one holds up to to the dark roux test and is stuffed with shrimp, oysters, okra, the “trinity”  (celery, onions and bell pepper) and a sweet slice or three of Andouille sausage. Its spicy sweetness warmed me to the core, so we didn’t waste time with the rice!

“Secret” Seafood Gumbo

We came back the following day hoping for some leftovers. Nope – none left! So we tried the signature Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp Kisses. Bite into one and the gooey cheese melts on your tongue, a great complement to the fresh shrimp blanketed by not-overdone maple bacon. The toasty onion rings reminded me of those of my youth and these were stacked like the onion volcano from that ubiquitous Japanese steakhouse.

Onion Rings and Signature Bacon-Wrapped Shrimp Kisses
We popped back in on FishTales the day after the second weekend Mardi Gras parade night and found the staff as neatly pressed and ready-to-meet and greet as the night before.


Fish Tales General Manager Brett Otteman and his 
Kitchen Manager Joe Haenchen
A couple of months ago, General Manager Brett Otteman, of Fish Tales in Galveston, needed to find a Kitchen Manager FAST. He asked if he could run a request for that staff member in the Facebook Group, Houston Eats by Jack Tyler and I agreed – happy to help. Being quickly communicative astute young men, they were talking within a week, and Brett had found his new Kitchen Manager, Chef Joe Haenchen.

By the way, did I mention the spread for guests that night was filled with everything you could want in the way of seafood?

Blackened Catfish Etouffee with Spicy Crawfish
Fried Catfish – Piping Hot
Supplied with huge bags of multi-colored beads, each guest tentatively began pitching them over the railing to waiting passersby below. As the evening wore on, the shouts and pleadings became louder and requests more daring (as you will see below).
Fun Just Started
Can’t start a Lenten diet without plenty of bakery sweets and treats and these were just SOME of them. We tried what we liked and then our neighboring table-mates brought even more back from the tables that we HAD to try.
Dark Chocolate Mousse With 
White Chocolate Shavings and Edible Nasturtiums
Fruit Tarts Filled With Cream Cheese


Smoked Salmon With
All the Fixin’s (capers, onions, chopped egg)
These Costumed Crazies “Buying” Beads Caught My Eye
(Too Bad They Were Rubber!)


Mardi Gras Cupcakes Wore a Riot of Color


Colorful Tortellini and Delicious Ravioli
A Regional Ceviche of Squid, Shrimp, Avocado, Cilantro, 
Onion, Jalapeno, Lime, and Tabasco
A Sea of “Sunburn Shrimp” Came Wave After Wave
Boiled Shrimp are Always a Favorite at Fish Tales…
 NOT just at Mardi Gras!
It wasn’t just a “little bit good” party at Fish Tales – it was mo’ betta! The quality service, food and generous portions would please any owner. And guess who came by to check in on the party?
Jack Tyler and Tilman Fertitta, the CEO
(P.S. Watch for his new reality show: Billion Dollar Buyer on CNBC Mar. 22)
The music? Live rock and roll of course. As I recall, it ended much too soon. Naturally, we heard that folks danced on the tables after we left. Ah well…we had great fun and ate our way well into the next day. Now we are walking the straight and narrow until Easter, but oh, what a night! Our thanks for our great hosts at FishTales. Warmer days are ahead and we’ll be back alright!
2502 Seawall Boulevard, Galveston, Texas 77550
A Landry’s Select Restaurant
(409) 762-8545

Pho and Crab… Westward To My Favorite Pho

I seldom use the word “best“, but this,  by far, 
is my favorite pho place! They also sell the
BEST wings I’ve ever had!
Spicy Chili Shrimp

To try pho (pronounced “fuh”) is to love pho. This out-west restaurant is a warm oasis in the middle of any cold day. If it’s not a cold day, just wait a minute – the weather will change.
Pho and Crab Restaurant, nestled along Memorial Drive, near Dairy Ashford, is one of those fabulous finds in a sea of strip malls and shops. General Manager Andrew Tran is a gracious and friendly host who makes sure his diners experience the best crab and the freshest seafood ingredients possible (in MY opinion). He has been practicing his craft for over 25 years and it looks like he has honed it well.

The first time I visited, I brought pho home from his restaurant on a cold, rainy night two years ago. Sally had no idea how much seafood could be packed into that styrofoam doggie bag container of soup. She couldn’t believe the number of shrimp, scallops and crab legs tucked inside.  She went wild for the mysterious green drink – Lemongrass Limeade.

 Crab, Shrimp and Scallop Pho


Fresh Basil, Cilantro and Bean Sprouts
Typically, pho is served with the above-pictured fresh ingredients to be added at will when you start or as you work your way through the salty seafood, chicken or beef mixture. Sriracha is optional.
Crab is obviously one of this restaurant’s specialties, and they serve Alaskan King, Snow, Dungeness, Bairdi, and when in season, Soft-Shell Crabs. And if you like mussels, they have them, too. Curried and vegan dishes will keep your friends entertained while you devour this:
Delicious, Abundant Crab!
Succulent Bairdi Crab Claws

Andrew’s favorite treasure is the Bairdi Crab – so good he recommends these Bering Sea favorites over all the others. These easygoing animals live symbiotically with King Crab and when you see folks catching King Crab on tv… about 20% of them are Bairdi Crab. Its easy-to-extract leg meat is sweet and comes out a blessed whole piece. That is such a satisfying feeling to crack a leg and be able to quickly chow down on crab!

Chicken and Noodles

His chicken and noodles are not the farm type, but the meat is grilled and sliced into strips – hearty and filling. In my opinion, garlic and onion add much to the delightful flavor.

Lemongrass Limeade

If you do go, you must try the Lemongrass Limeade – highly recommended. That zippy little green drink is refreshing without being cloyingly sweet. The lemongrass is homegrown by Tran and makes it a uniquely flavored treat. I can’t have a meal without it.

Pad Thai

Pad Thai is always a good “testing” dish as it is served and requested everywhere. Pho and Crab’ s flat noodles remain separate and not gummy as can so often happen. It is the comfort dish of many countries, and this one is great.
Chili Spicy Pepper Hot Wings

We do not want to forget the most astonishing chicken wings we ever had.  They serve them three ways: Chili Spicy Pepper, Saigon-Style, and Tamarind. If you only try these, you will be glad you made the trek west. They are marinated for hours and grilled to piping hot perfection. Finger-licking? Absolutely! But also, you will want to gnaw them down to the bones!

I truly believe what makes Pho & Crab so wonderful is the graciousness of its general manager, Andrew Tran. He clearly loves seeing his customers enjoy his food.

Andrew Tran, General Manager, Pho and Crab Restaurant

Everyday dining is elevated to a night out on the town with a little of Frank Sinatra’s relaxing music and the surprisingly romantic dining room and fine art. A beverage of your choice could make this a Valentine’s Day treat.

Pronto is Very Pronto… yet freshly made!

Lemon Garlic Roasted Chicken

One of the hardest things a food writer has to do is to convince many diners that a chain restaurant has a made-from-scratch kitchen. In the case of Pronto, all you have to know is the owners are the VIncent Mandola Family. Yes, the very same people who created Nino’s and Vincent’s on West Dallas. The same love and attention to fresh ingredients, details and flavor that have made their restaurants famous for the past twenty-plus years, can be tasted in every bite at Pronto.

Several friends of mine and I met at the Pronto Cucinino on San Felipe, two and 1/2 blocks from my house (thank you very much).


The Breadsticks give new meaning to “breadsticks” and are spiced to the limit. I, literally, could make a meal out of a couple of orders of these. They are definitely not your grandfather’s breadsticks. A must to start a meal.


Sliders!  I started with one of their “Weekly Special’ that ended Sunday. I posted it because they bring it back about twice a month and you need to try it. It’s a beef patty, topped with seasonal greens and Gorgonzola cheese.  Order yours medium rare.

The Lemon Garlic Roasted Chicken is wonderful and will make you clean the bones like you have an eating disorder. Mashed potatoes, French-style green beans are nice complements.

GM and Chef Brian and City Centre To-Go Manager Natalie 

Two employees who make a difference in how the stores  are operating were General Manager Brian Dale, who is also the Executive Chef, and the other was a City Centre location’s To-Go Manager, Natalie.

The Vincent Mandola family – VIncent, Mary, Vinceann and Dana are often in the restaurants from time-to-time, overseeing the daily operations, and acting as quality control agents. A dish, say, the Chicken VIncent, will be the same at each location, made from scratch. This is a dish that I would attempt to make at home. It’s a plump chicken breast dusted with Parmesan, and then pan sauteed then topped with artichokes and lemon. It’s called a “house favorite” and is now a favorite of mine.

Chicken Vincent
Two things that stood out and made a believer out of me were the cheeses and very fresh vegetables proudly on display here. I’ve been to three locations and found that the displays of these produce items caught the eye of the diners…especially me.
Fresh Produce
This Monster Reggiano Parmesan 
Takes Two to Carry
These photos came from the Pronto that is nestled in a strip center housing the new H-E-B store on San Felipe at Fountain View Drive.
San Felipe Location
5885 San Felipe St.
Houston, TX 77057


Beck’s Prime… Hardly a Chain Burger!

Bill’s  Burger

They’re all over the place. I can walk to one from my house and drive to another in five minutes (every Wednesday at Memorial Park when I hit golf balls, I then eat a burger at Beck’s Memorial).

It would be easy to call Beck;s an upcale burger joint, but that would disregard the salads… the tuna… the pizzas…the steaks… the meatballs… the Philly cheesesteaks…seafood…13 Italian specialties and on and on. As I go the every Wednesday, I’ve tried a lot… but missed opportunities to photograph a couple of salads, and a bahn mi and wonderful BLT.  But, here are a few of the burgers, etc. that I photographed and remember:

Ribeye Burger

Chili Dog
Ahi Tuna Burger
All grilled items are grilled over Mesquite coals; the atmosphere and aroma around all locations will draw you in. It’s a familiar, comfortable dining room for family and friends. I’ll mention no addresses, as there are many… just a logo and website:
Becks Prime


Run Away to The Del Restaurant and Bar – Sorry You Didn’t Win Powerball

GM Keith Thompson Welcomes You to The Del
Tucked down a Voss side street on Del Monte, on the back side of Cornelius, lies a quiet oasis of comfortable casual country club-style dining. Modern, sleekly clean and neat, The Del Restaurant and Bar welcomes lunchtime visitors with a small, yet wide open space and plenty of outdoor patio seating (approx. 50 seats).

Red Pepper Bisque
Menu items include a fine red pepper bisque swirled with sour cream and a lump of salty shrimp tucked under the surface. 

Grilled Pear Salad
The grilled Bosc pear, arugula, frisee, toasted almonds, goat cheese salad drizzled with champagne vinaigrette and large blueberries is sure to please both you and your workout trainer.

Angel Hair & Shrimp/Chicken
Angel hair pasta with tomato and asparagus in a lemon butter sauce and shrimp can become pasta and chicken, in a quick exchange and simple blink of the eye.

Lobster Roll
The lobster wedge salad on crispy brioche (roll), with avocado buttermilk dressing was presented with a flourish. (Note to try: Del Shannon – Runaway – Sandwich is made with chicken, sauerkraut, swiss cheese and tangy dressing on rye bread. Cheese board, mussels and lamb, too!)
Water glasses and coffee were immediately refilled; waitstaff was extremely attentive and friendly. A lovely way to while away the hours affordably and off the beaten path on the southwest side of town. The restaurant remains in good company with Arturo Boada’s across the street, Cornelius for plant-shopping and Bramble nearby.
In all, a pleasant, and as yet only modestly discovered, consistent dining experience. 
Run there while you still can.


Jack Tyler’s Christmas Miracle

A few months ago, my wonderfully funny and loving husband, Jack, was diagnosed with prostate cancer. A fear and dread came over us both as we realized how fragile life can be. No cancer diagnosis in a family fraught with cancer deaths can be accepted with ease. Jack’s grandmother (one of U.T. M.D. Anderson Cancer Center’s first patients), mother, father, sister and still with us niece – all have had bouts with cancer (prostate, throat, thyroid, lung). Few families remain untouched by cancer and many are fighting it now.

After nine long weeks of 45 cancer treatments through Memorial Hermann’s Texas Oncology Radiation Center Memorial City, his doctors predict that in 2016, he will be cancer free!  We are going with that positive thought and optimistically counting it as “Jack Tyler’s Christmas Miracle”. As we all know, nothing keeps a good man down.

Come join us in celebration on Monday, December 21, 2015, at 5:30 p.m., at Ula’s Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, 5555 Washington Avenue (near TC Jester). (Click here to join us: http://a-christmas-miracle-for-jack-tyler.eventbrite.comGenerously, Brady Bussey, owner, will provide $4 Margaritas and appetizers for all. In appreciation for his wilingness to host, we hope you will make your personal dinner reservations now.

The holidays and year-end are a great time to take a moment to celebrate your own family’s health and wellness and to plan for a better 2016! Take time to reflect on goodness and enjoy a cup of cheer with us. We look forward to  meeting and sharing time with you. Happy Holidays and here’s to a better 2016!

Getting Well!

Thanks to the writing skills of my Senior Editor, Sally Tyler, my blog and Houston Eats Facebook page haven’t stopped and some posts have been written by her. Thank you! Cancer treatments will be over in two weeks (13 of 45 left) and a spinal pain treatment will be done two days after the cancer treatments. I’m starting today with a couple of posts to get me back on track. Happy Thanksgiving!

Some homemade smoked Salmon from Amalfi



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